The Ministry of Cults and Religion has banned all Cambodian monks from staging or participating in demonstrations, Supreme Patriarch Non Nget, Chief of Phnom Penh’s monks, said June 24.
Non Nget said a June 8 directive signed by both himself and Cults and Religion minister Khun Haing calls on all Buddhist monks across the country to refrain from engaging in peaceful protest as this could create “disorder.”
“We cannot allow them to march for peace because Cambodia is at peace already,” he said of the ban, claiming that protest marches could stir unrest.
According to Non Nget, the directive says that monks who do demonstrate will be “responsible before the law,” though he did not elaborate. Khun Haing could not be reached June 24.
Kek Galabru, President of local rights group Licadho, said that monks are guaranteed the same constitutional rights as any other citizen and have the right to protest. “The Constitution says that everyone has the right to demonstrate peacefully,” she said.
Thach Setha, president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, said the ban had likely been ordered to prevent ethnic Khmer Krom monks from marching for greater human rights for Khmer Krom living in southern Vietnam.
“The government is concerned about friendship with Vietnam. That is why they’ve banned us,” he claimed. He also said that Buddhist monks only sought to march peacefully, and should be allowed to continue to do so. “We will never cause social disorder,” he said.
Non Nget declined to say whether the ban was related to the Khmer Krom issue.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached June 24. However, National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin said the announcement was an effort “to preserve social stability.”
“The ban is proper because the government does not want to have any disorder in society,” he said, adding that this refers to all monks and not just the Khmer Krom. “We do not ignore the Khmer Krom,” he said, adding that the Vietnamese government allows full freedom to the minority group.
Yoeun Sin, director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Buddhist Monks in Cambodia, claimed that more than 200 Khmer Krom monks have since June 20 staged protests in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho province to demand land they say was confiscated by Vietnamese authorities in the 1970s.
The Vietnamese Embassy said Friday that it had no knowledge of such protests.
“I am not aware about these protests,” said embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam. “But in Vietnam there are clear and proper laws on the management of land, so no one can abuse the law and confiscate land,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Ethan Plaut)